Skip to the main content

David O’Brien is an 2023-2024 Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, whose scholarship focuses on the intersections of privacy, cybersecurity, regulation and governance, surveillance, and national security.

David currently teaches Information Security Law & Policy at Northeastern University’s School or Law, where is also a faculty affiliate at Northeastern’s Center for Innovation, Law, and Creativity. He taught Privacy in the Digital Age at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Additionally, he serves a Research Fellow at the Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Social Science at Boston University, where his current research explores the statutory, normative, and ethical questions surrounding the use of emerging privacy-preserving techniques, including secure multi-party computation. David’s work has been featured in The New York Times, the MIT Technology Review, Just Security and numerous academic journals. He has served on expert working groups on cybersecurity and encryption policy for the Aspen Institute, the World Economic Forum, and the East West Institute, among others.

From 2009-2021, he led research projects on the Berkman Klein Center's staff, serving most recently as the Assistant Research Director for Privacy and Security. David was a recipient of the Dean's Award for Excellence at Harvard Law School in 2016 and a co-recipient of the Caspar Bowden Award for Outstanding Research in Privacy Enhancing Technologies in 2019. Outside of the Berkman Klein Center, David was a co-founding editor and co-host of Technically Legal, a podcast which analyzed Internet caselaw and litigation in the news. The podcast ran from 2009-2012, retiring after publishing more than 110 episodes.

Before joining the Berkman Klein Center in 2009, David advised clients on matters involving technology and the law. He earned a J.D. from Northeastern University’s School of Law, where he served on the Northeastern University Law Review staff, and a B.S. in Economics & Business Administration. While in law school, David held positions in the Copyright, Trademark, New Media & Entertainment practice group at Fish & Richardson in Boston, at Inverness Medical Innovations’ in-house legal department, and with the Hon. Judith Dein at the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

You can find David on Twitter at

Projects & Tools

Privacy Tools

The Privacy Tools Project is a broad effort to advance a multidisciplinary understanding of data privacy issues and build computational, statistical, legal, and policy tools to…

Digital Public Library of America

The DPLA empowers people to learn, grow, and contribute to a diverse and better-functioning society by maximizing public access to our shared history, culture, and knowledge.

AI: Global Governance and Inclusion

In a world challenged by growing domestic and international inequalities, policymakers face hard problems and difficult choices when dealing with AI systems.

Assembly: Disinformation

The Assembly: Disinformation Program brings together participants from academia, industry, government, and civil society from across disciplines to explore and make progress on…


Cloud Computing

Led by Executive Director and Harvard Law School Professor of Practice, Urs Gasser, the Berkman Center's cloud computing initiative seeks to identify and evaluate the challenges…

Cybersecurity Wiki

During 2010-2012, under the guidance of Professor Jack Goldsmith, the Berkman Klein Center team created a cybersecurity wiki, which houses an evolving set of more than 350…


E-Publishing Models

With the generous support of the Revson Foundation, the E-Publishing Models Project is focused on exploring current issues associated with digital publishing business models and…

Internet Governance

A multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and extended investigation into the multi-layered system that defines the function, structure, and operation of the Internet. 



In early June 2012, Urs Gasser and John Palfrey released Interoperability: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems. The book is inspired by their 2005 study and…

Privacy Initiatives

The Berkman Klein Center has long been home to a number of cross-disciplinary initiatives that investigate privacy and privacy-relevant questions in the digitally networked…


Nov 1, 2018

Differential Privacy

A Primer for a Non-Technical Audience

This primer aims to provide a foundation that can guide future decisions when analyzing and sharing statistical data about individuals, informing individuals about the privacy…

Aug 21, 2018

Bridging the Gap between Computer Science and Legal Approaches to Privacy

A look at the gaps that exist between how privacy risks are conceptualized between the fields of law and computer science

Mar 12, 2018

Practical Approaches to Big Data Privacy Over Time

This article analyzes how privacy risks multiply as large quantities of personal data are collected over longer periods of time.

Sep 26, 2016

Privacy and Cybersecurity Research Briefing

This research briefing aims to translate findings from ongoing Berkman Klein Center privacy and cybersecurity research and activities into practical considerations and takeaways…

Sep 26, 2016

Privacy and Open Data Research Briefing

This research briefing offers a snapshot of recent developments in the open data and privacy landscape, outlines an action map of various governance approaches to protecting…

May 31, 2016

Towards a Modern Approach to Privacy-Aware Government Data Releases

Governments are under increasing pressure to promote transparency, accountability, and innovation by making the data they hold available to the public. Because the data often…

Mar 31, 2016

Elements of a New Ethical Framework for Big Data Research

The Berkman Center is pleased to announce the publication of a new paper from the Privacy Tools for Sharing Research Data project team. In this paper, Effy Vayena, Urs Gasser,…

Feb 1, 2016

Don't Panic: Making Progress on the "Going Dark" Debate

This report from the Berkman Center's Berklett Cybersecurity Project offers a new perspective on the "going dark" debate from the discussion, debate, and analyses of an…

Mar 27, 2015

Integrating Approaches to Privacy Across the Research Lifecycle: When Is Information Purely Public?

This workshop report, the second in a series, identifies selected questions and explores issues around the meaning of “public” in the context of using data about individuals for…

Aug 3, 2014

Integrating Approaches to Privacy across the Research Lifecycle: Long-term Longitudinal Studies

This paper explores interdisciplinary approaches to privacy in long-term longitudinal studies of human subjects. Long-term longitudinal studies collect, at multiple points over a…

Mar 17, 2014

Governments and Cloud Computing: Roles, Approaches, and Policy Considerations

In this paper, Urs Gasser and David O'Brien synthesize findings from a multi-year cloud computing research initiative led by the Berkman Center in close collaboration with the…

Jul 29, 2012

E-books in Libraries: A Briefing Document developed in preparation for a Workshop on E-Lending in Libraries

This briefing document was developed with helpful inputs from industry stakeholders and other practitioners in preparation for the “E-Books in Libraries” workshop, hosted on…


Harvard Law Today
Apr 10, 2019

The Law and the Digital World

The AGTech Forum at Harvard Law gives state attorneys general a place to learn about technological changes and strategize about how the law can keep up

Insight for Attorney Generals into privacy and emerging technologies

Jan 30, 2019

Facebook Hires Up Three of Its Biggest Privacy Critics

Through three new hires, Facebook may be giving real decisionmaking power to people who deeply understand the ways in which the social media site and its family of apps undermine…


Boston 25 News

Here’s how to protect yourself from being tracked by your Wi-Fi signal

David O’Brien speaks with Boston 25 News about protecting yourself from being tracked by your Wifi signal. “A big part of the problem is that when wireless protocols were…

May 23, 2022

How digital surveillance thrived in the 20 years since 9/11

David O'Brien explains how the two decades since the September 11 terrorist attacks have involved a broad expansion of government surveillance powers.

Sep 8, 2021
Boston 25 News

David O’Brien on ransomware attacks

David O’Brien spoke with Boston 25 News about ransomware attacks and the ransomware industry

Apr 8, 2021
Boston 25 News

David O’Brien on privacy considerations for third-party vaccine websites

David O’Brien shares insight on using third-party vaccine scheduling websites

Mar 31, 2021
Coda Story

The dark side of open source intelligence

David O’Brien discusses open source intelligence

Jan 15, 2021

Natick students’ online messages on school platforms are analyzed for potential danger and distress

A Vermont company uses artificial intelligence to identify messages of distress, including those made by Natick students.

Apr 18, 2020

The government might want your phone location data to fight coronavirus. Here’s why that could be okay.

David O’Brien argues that the American government will have to walk a fine line if it wants to get useful information while still preserving citizens’ privacy rights.

Mar 18, 2020

Why Sharing Your Disney+ Or Netflix Password Is A Bad Idea

David O’Brien says password sharing is highly inadvisable.

Dec 2, 2019

Disney+ Has a Hacking Problem

David O’Brien talks password security with Gizmodo

Nov 18, 2019

Announcing Assembly: Disinformation

New program explores disinformation in the digital public sphere from a cybersecurity perspective

Aug 14, 2019

Apple's iCloud could get Face ID and Touch ID support with iOS 13

Apple is testing new sign-in options for iCloud, but there are privacy concerns

Jul 7, 2019
The Boston Globe

So There Are People Behind Alexa’s Curtain. Will Anyone Care?

Making smart speakers and technologies smarter, but what about privacy?

Apr 11, 2019
USA Today

Anyone can easily hack into your phone.

Just ask Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Five tips to secure your phone - it might not keep a foreign country determined to strike away, but it will strengthen your security.

Mar 31, 2019
Just Security

A Legislative Shot at Internet of Things Security

A recently unveiled proposal for regulating the Internet of Things in the US falls short in some areas, but could make some significant strides towards advancing the status quo

Mar 19, 2019
Fast Company

What Mark Zuckerberg’s new vision could really mean for privacy and propaganda

Some critics worry the new privacy push is also a way to dodge regulation and avoid moderating content: “The devil is in the details.”

Mar 10, 2019
Boston Globe

In major shift, Facebook puts focus on users’ privacy

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a major strategy shift on Wednesday, declaring that the world’s largest social network will develop a highly secure…

Mar 6, 2019
Annals of Internal Medicine

Are Requirements to Deposit Data in Research Repositories Compatible With the GDPR?

The requirements of the GDPR are increasingly coming into conflict with the requirements of research communities

Feb 19, 2019

DuckDuckGo's private searches will pull up Apple Maps results

The recent partnership between privacy-focused search tool Duck Duck Go and Apple has an uncertain implications for the future of privacy on the engine.

Jan 15, 2019

Law and Adversarial Machine Learning

A survey of existing legal remedies for attacks that have been demonstrated on machine learning systems, and suggests some potential areas of exploration for machine learning…

Dec 20, 2018
Boston 25 News

Unlocking your phone’s secrets

Devices give access to those willing to pay up

David O’Brien on tools used by law enforcement to crack into suspects' personal digital devices

Nov 13, 2018

Law and Adversarial Machine Learning

When machine learning systems fail because of adversarial manipulation, how should society expect the law to respond?

Oct 26, 2018